UNITED NATIONS, N.Y. — THE much-publicized first United Nations Security Council summit Jan. 31 took no dramatic decisions that would rocket the world body along a new course for the 21st century.
Yet the leaders of the 15 member nations who sat side by side at the Council's horseshoe table for some five hours had ample suggestions about how the new UN secretary-general and the UN's chief peacekeeping arm could do their jobs better.
Several leaders urged much more vigorous efforts, for instance, to control arms and the spread of nuclear capability. Russian President Boris Yeltsin, proclaiming the United States and the West allies rather than just partners, proposed creation of a global anti-missile shield.
Many leaders urged more readiness, both in troops and funding, for a quicker launch of UN peacekeeping operations. France's President Francois Mitterrand said his nation is ready to provide 1,000 troops at 48-hours notice and double that number within a week.
Leaders also said the UN must increase its effectiveness in preventive diplomacy - detecting and resolving conflicts before they turn violent.
Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa said that UN fact-finding missions and information shared by countries with sophisticated data-gathering ability could help the secretary-general ward off conflicts before they begin.
UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who is to report back to the Council on these and his own suggestions for improvement by July, said nations are now too interdependent to remain isolated. "Civil wars are no longer civil," he said.
Yet the main message carried by most heads of state to this summit, which was called by Britain's Prime Minister John Major, was a general mix of applause for the Council's new ability to act in the absence of old superpower rivalry, and of warnings about new problems that deserve more UN attention.
The result was a rare reflective moment for Council members usually immersed in the detail of resolving specific conflicts from Yugoslavia to Somalia. It was, as one diplomat put it, a chance to look at the "big picture."
Many leaders warned of the growing tie between economic development and collective security.
"Underdevelopment remains the greatest threat to peace and security in the world," declared Morocco's King Hassan II.
"North-South confrontation must not take the place of East-West confrontation," insisted President Mitterrand. Several leaders, including those from Ecuador, Hungary, and Venezuela, endorsed his call for a world summit on social development.
Most present praised the spread of democracy and gains on human rights. President Yeltsin, whose presence sealed Russia's bid for the former Soviet Union's Council seat, noted that the last 10 political prisoners in his nation were freed a few days ago. US President Bush, calling the summit a "moment of new beginning" for the UN, said, "We must advance the momentous movement toward democracy and freedom ... and expand the circle of nations committed to human rights and the rule of law."
The only vocal dissenter on that note was Chinese Premier Li Peng. Both in his speech, and in talks afterward with Mr. Bush - a meeting vigorously protested by demonstrators outside the UN - Mr. Li insisted that human rights are not just political but economic and are a sovereign matter that must be viewed in their historic and cultural context.
Yet Li's point on sovereignty as off-limits to the UN struck a chord that runs deep for many UN members. Many want the Council's peacekeeping mandate held to very tight limits. They also want the Council's membership to expand and and its operations to become much more democratic.
Japan and Germany, for instance, are often mentioned as potential permanent Council members. Since any change would require Charter revision and open up other problems in the process, there is now a virtual consensus that making changes by the UN's 50th anniversary in 1995 will be soon enough.
Prime Minister Miya-zawa, citing the date, noted diplomatically that the Council should be made "more reflective of the realities of the new era."
Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao of India said that broader Council representation is a "must" for moral and political effectiveness. Zimbabwe's Foreign Minister Nathan Shamuyarira questioned the appropriateness of continuing veto power in the Council and notes that no countries in Africa or Latin America have a permanent Council seat.
Yet, for all such wrangling over future direction, many summit leaders bemoan the fact that the UN is operating on the brink of bankruptcy at a time when it is most needed and valuable.